Centre for Internet & Society

In just one year India lost $968M due to Internet shutdowns; “Cops may not be the right decision makers when it comes to imposing what is a digital curfew,” added an entrepreneur journalist.

The article by Regina Mihindukulasuriya was published in the Businessworld on April 26, 2017.

An entrepreneur from the troubled state of Kashmir, Muheet Mehraj, is cofounder and CEO of Kashmirbox.com. He said that businesses that run on the Internet are crippled by Internet shutdowns. “A lot of people's livelihood depends on the Internet. If you shut down the Internet, you shut down their lives. Also, hospitals and academic institutes need constant Internet access and a way must be found to ensure they are never impacted by a shutdown.”

In 2016, Brookings Institution released a survey of 19 countries and the Internet shutdowns each of them experienced. India was in that list and according to the century old research institute, suffered the biggest economic loss to GDP at 968 million dollars all due to Internet shutdowns.

The general secretary of Maha Gujarat Bank Employees Association was quoted in 2016 as saying that an Internet shutdown for 6 days across Gujarat culminated in a loss of rupees 7000 crore for banks in the state.

The Brookings survey recorded the maximum number of disruptions in India at 22. According to IndiaSpend.org, The Centre for Communication Governance at the National Law University of Delhi counts 37 shutdowns across 11 states since 2015 and 22 of them happened in the first 9 months of 2016.

The Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC) claims there have been 72 instances of Internet shutdown in India since 2012 and that not all of them are justified.

The SFLC.in along with other civil society organizations addressed the increasing frequency of Internet shutdowns in the country. Baijayant 'Jay' Panda, Member of Parliament said that India needs effective checks and balances on the process and power to order Internet Shutdowns in India. He added that, “The power to shut Internet should be exercised by the district's Superintendent of Police only in rare cases when there is imminent threat to breakdown of law and order, and risk of loss of life and property".

He was speaking at a public discussion organized by SFLC.in, in association with Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF); IT for Change, Internet Democracy Project (IDP); Centre for Internet and Society (CIS), and Foundation for Media Professionals (FMP).

Mr Panda remarked that this power should be limited to 24 or 48 hours. “If Internet must be shut down for a longer duration, the decision must be taken by Director General of Police or the chief secretary of state”, he said.

Abhinandan Sekhri, cofounder and CEO of Newslaundry raised concerns that there is a fundamental flaw in how Indians approach law making, in that they first look at the worst case scenario before taking a liberal and democratic point of view. “Cops may not be the right decision makers when it comes to imposing what is a digital curfew,” Mr. Sekhri said.

Snehashish Ghosh, associate manager for public policy at Facebook said, “Even though we may not have ready data to measure the impact of shutdowns, there is no denying that businesses suffer.” The Facebook Inc. – owned, WhatsApp is often reported as one of the most missed services whenever the Internet is shutdown in Kashmir during days of social unrest.

Mishi Choudhary, president and legal director of SFLC.in said, “According to our Internet Shutdown Tracker, India has experienced at least 72 instances of Internet Shutdowns since 2012. Several communities and states have suffered irreversible socioeconomic losses because they were denied Internet access for extended durations.”

Mishi continued, “The shutdown of Internet not only restrains basic human rights such as the right to freedom of speech and expression, but also cripples activities like e-commerce, e-governance, e-health and e-learning, entirely reliant on the Internet.”

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